Walker Percy Wednesday 131

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Question: During the week following Pearl Harbor, the incidence of suicide declined dramatically across the nation. Was this decline a consequence of
(1) A rise in patriotic fervor and a sense of purpose?
(2) A new sense of interest (e.g., something, even war, is better than nothing. Peace in the 1930s was like nothing)?

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Wednesday. The ex-Premier of France, General de Gaulle, has died and the President of the United States attends his funeral. He looks very solemn and dignified sitting in Notre Dame cathedral. Later he confides to an aide that he enjoys state funerals more than anything he does in Washington or even Camp David because he can relax and let his mind go blank and yet be admired for paying his respects and taking so much trouble when all he has to do is look solemn. And also because there is de Gaulle dead as a duck and here I am alive and kicking.

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There are four possible answers: (a) The news is unrelievedly bad. (b) The news is putatively bad, that is, news which by all criteria should be bad but in which you nevertheless take a certain comfort. (c) The news is unrelievedly good. (d) The news is putatively good, that is, news which by all criteria ought to be good but which you find secretly depressing.

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(b) Putatively bad news but secretly good? The incident somehow dispenses you. The single irrational act of a madman changes the entire state of your life in an instant—from that of an anxious worried businessman in danger of losing a big account, to that of an innocent victim, not only not guilty but also unfailed, a patient who finds himself not only in the peculiar role of hospital patient with its peculiar prerogatives, that of being the passive and blameless recipient of the expert services of highly trained people, but of a certain honorific status as well, better than a business bonus: that of being a kind of surrogate victim for all of us. After all, it could happen to any of us in this crazy world, and here it has happened to you, a highly respected and successful member of the community. You took a round which any of us could have taken.
What is more, you’ll probably get the account for your firm—which in your anxiety you might have lost—without lifting a finger. What corporation would turn you down?
Why did President Reagan feel better after he was shot than he has felt since?

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In a word, how much good news about Charlie can you tolerate without compensatory catastrophes, heroic rescues, and such?

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He believes that world peace can be achieved only by uniting the Western tradition of science and technology and the Eastern tradition of self-transcendence, especially Zen and Tibetan Buddhism.

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